Buzzing. Ringing. Clicking. Hissing. Humming. Sounds like something an old furnace would belch out from the basement, but these are actually sounds people experience with tinnitus. While it is commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears,” it can be a temporary condition or a chronic one. 

Do you or a loved one think they have tinnitus? Take a look at a few of these facts to help you out.

According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), over 45 million Americans struggle with tinnitus. Tinnitus is defined as “the perception of sound in the absence of external sound.” This basically means that sounds — ringing in ears, whistling or buzzing — can only be heard by the person affected. 

There are two types of tinnitus: 

  • Acute tinnitus: Sudden onset of ringing in the ears, with no explanation, and lasting less than three months. 

  • Chronic tinnitus: A consistent ringing in the ears, lasting longer than three months. 

Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom of some other underlying health condition. According to ATA, potential causes of tinnitus could include:

  • Loud noise exposure
  • Head/neck trauma

  • Presbycusis (hearing loss due to aging)

  • Ototoxic medications

  • Common ailments (i.e., anemia, allergies, impacted earwax, diabetes)

While anyone can develop tinnitus, below are some of the groups that are at risk of developing it.

  • Older adults

  • Musicians and music lovers

  • People employed in loud workplace environments 

  • Active military personnel and veterans

  • Motorsports and hunting enthusiasts

The impact of tinnitus also extends beyond the person who is experiencing it. According to the American Tinnitus Association, family, friends and coworkers may also be affected as they attempt to support someone with tinnitus. 

Loud ringing and a sensitivity to noise can make it difficult for people with tinnitus to socialize and communicate normally with others — even with spouses and close friends. Supporters often have their own feelings of frustration and confusion as they struggle to understand and help their loved one with tinnitus.

While some people can ignore their tinnitus most of the time, leaving it untreated can put a strain on your well-being. The truth is, tinnitus can lead to stress, concentration problems, sleeplessness, social isolation, and depression. 

But there’s good news — there are things that can be done to address the ringing in your ears. Consulting a hearing care professional can help put you on the path for treatment.